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Associated Press, Published July 04 2013

Minnesota grants seek to clarify message on water pollution from drugs

MOORHEAD – Officials often urge the public not to flush old prescription drugs down the toilet because they pollute Minnesota’s waters, but that message often gets muddied.

Environmental leaders concede the public has heard mixed messages over the years about how to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals and other compounds that can contaminate lakes and rivers. A new state grant program hopes to bring some clarity, helping people make the connection between the water they drink and the chemicals they put into the water.

Minnesota Department of Health project coordinator Michele Ross said the agency plans to distribute $100,000 a year to local groups. The money comes through the Minnesota Clean Water Fund. It’s not a lot of money, but Ross said local groups are often more efficient and effective at getting the message out.

One of the four groups getting the grants is Fargo-Moorhead River Keepers. Getting good information out is important, said its project coordinator, Christine Laney, because “right now it’s really easy to flush it down the toilet or throw it in the garbage.”

Many cities and counties collect unused prescription drugs and send them to incinerators designed to dispose of toxic chemicals. But that’s not always the advice people get, even from official sources.

“We’ve encouraged people, for example, to dispose of their prescription drugs by flushing them down the toilet or putting them in a sealed container and disposing of them in their regular garbage and then they get put into landfill because those were the techniques we had available at that point in time,” said Diane Thorson, public health director for Otter Tail County.

Thorson said one of the grants will pay a public relations firm to create a message in four west-central Minnesota counties that will capture public attention. The counties will also expand their collection of old prescription drugs and household chemicals.

Other grants went to a St. Cloud group that plans to create an advertising and social media campaign, and a Twin Cities organization that will target its message to Latino populations.

Ross said the goal is simple. It’s about getting the word out, she said, “so that there’s less improper disposal so that you don’t see as high a concentration in rivers and streams, and you see less impact then on aquatic ecosystems, and you see lower concentrations that end up in our drinking water as well.”